Tag Archives: John Goodman

Punchline (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The perils of standup.

Lilah (Sally Field) is a New York housewife who enjoys making people laugh and takes a stab at stand-up, but finds the experience challenging and ends up paying someone $500 for jokes, but they don’t go over well. Then she meets Steven (Tom Hanks) a struggling med student who moonlights at the same comedy club that she does. Steven is genuinely funny, but so highly insecure that he ends up self-destructing at the most crucial times. He tries to help Lilah hone in her comedic skills while she gives him confidence.

The film, which is written and directed by David Seltzer, nicely analyzes the very unfunny side of the comedy business particularly its emphasis on how one must toil away at seedy clubs, hecklers, low pay, drunken audiences and a permeating sense of insecurity. Hanks abrasive character is spot-on and a good composite of those still stuck in the trenches and bitter about not yet being discovered. In fact I had wanted the surliness of his character to be played up even more as I had come into contact with struggling comedians during my time when I dabbled in improv and found a lot of them to be basket cases of insecurity and when not onstage were quite unpleasant to be around.

In fact it was because the Hanks character was so unlikable and even more so in some of the earlier versions that the script sat on the studio shelf for so long before it finally got the green light. To help compensate certain overreaching attempts were put in to soften his persona, which only ends up hurting the film’s authenticity. One scene has him inside a hospital doing one of his comedy acts for the patients and as he is leaving he suddenly shows this extreme concern for a sick child that he doesn’t even know and he immediately runs over to him, which seemed forced.

Another bit has him onstage and suffering from an extreme emotional breakdown when he sees his father sitting in the audience. Many people harbor demons from the past and frosty relationships with their parents, but they don’t have such over-the-top reactions especially when in front of an audience, which only helps to make this scene reek of hackneyed melodrama.

His friendship with Field, which I initially found cute as the two are complete opposites, gets ruined when a romantic angle unwisely gets thrown in. These two had very little in common, the Field character was married with three kids, ten years old than him and not particularly stunning, so I didn’t see the chemistry or reason for the sudden attraction on Hanks’ part. Having him gush all over her after only knowing her for a brief time is unrealistic. His personal struggles including the fact that he had been evicted from his apartment and had no money would be occupying his mind so much that a potential relationship wouldn’t even enter into it.

Fortunately the film recovers with a strong ending and Field is excellent, but I wished that we had seen more of a backstory to her character and were able to witness the very first time that she ever ventured out onto the stage. The supporting cast offers great performances as well including John Goodman as Field’s husband who initially isn’t supportive of her stand-up ambitions, but eventually warms up to it. Mark Rydell is solid as the club owner and Mac Robbins has a touching moment as an aging comedian who has seen it all before in a film that offers a revealing look at the comedy business.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Seltzer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Studio: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

True Stories (1986)

true stories

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Eccentric people of Texas.

David Byrne the founder member of the influential Talking Heads rock group tries his hand at filmmaking, which to date has been his only directorial foray of a feature film and not including two documentaries that he did in the late 80’s and early 90’s. This film centers on weird characters that were inspired from tabloid magazine stories and the list of eccentric people include The Lazy Woman (Swoosie Kurtz) who is so rich that she never needs to get out of bed and has a wide array of servants or robotic hands to help her do everything. There is also John Goodman as a single man desperately seeking a mate, Jo Harvey Allen as a chronic lying woman and Alix Elias as The Cute Woman.

The film starts out with promise. Byrne focuses on interesting symmetrical designs and colors. I also liked how every other shot seems to focus on the vast flat emptiness of the Texas landscape as well as showing rows and rows of steel sheds something that no other filmmaker would think of doing, which helps give this a unique vision. The humor is consistently offbeat and amusing with my favorite moment coming during a fashion show where the runway models are shown to wear increasingly more outlandish outfits all to the excitement of an enthusiastic audience. Byrne’s parody of driving his car in front of a blue screen is also quite funny.

Goodman is a delight not only when he gets behind the microphone and sings ‘People Like Us’, but also his TV-ad looking for eligible women. Kurtz is quite funny too especially with her entranced look while watching banal and inane TV-shows. Spalding Gray adds a good presence and the scene where he tries to create the layout of a town while using food at a dinner table is great.

Unfortunately the film ends up being a misfire mainly because it has no real plot to speak of. The quirky ideas and goofy characters are wasted in a directionless movie that goes nowhere. Certain innovative touches like having a group of children coming out of an empty field to sing a song become confusing and pointless. Byrne’s own presence as an onscreen narrator quickly loses it welcome and eventually becomes annoying. It manages to come together a little during the last half-hour with some much needed cohesion, but it is not enough to save it.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated  PG

Director: David Byrne

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Eddie Macon’s Run (1983)

eddie macons run 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He runs across Texas.

Each Monday during the month of September, in order to celebrate my impending move from Indianapolis to Austin, Texas, we will be reviewing an 80’s movie that takes place in Texas. We start with this film that is based on the James McLendon novel. Eddie Macon (John Schneider) is a young father wrongly accused of a crime who devises a plan to escape from prison and then run on foot from Hunstville to Laredo where he hopes to cross the Mexican border to freedom. The problem is dirty cop Carl (Kirk Douglas) who is holding a past grudge is determined not to let him do it and is hot-on-his-heals.

The film’s basic premise seems not only impractical, but wholly impossible. Per Mapquest the distance between Huntsville and Laredo is 385 miles and this man expects to somehow do it all on foot in only 4 days, which is ridiculous especially when his wife owns a car. Instead of having her drop off his backpack with all of his supplies at a certain strategic point why not have her waiting for him at that same spot with a car ready to whisk him off? The concept makes no sense. There is no reason why he has to do this all on foot and basic logistics of it are mind boggling.

I also had to a lesser extent issues with the Lee Purcell character that plays Jilly Buck. Eddie saves her from an attack by another man and then she helps him elude Carl with her connections through the governor that allows her to lead a rather privileged existence. I understood that she would want to help him a little since he helped her, but she goes far and beyond that and puts herself and her cushy lifestyle in jeopardy by doing it for a man that has clearly stated will stay faithful to his wife.

Schneider, who has too much of a boyish face, is quite weak in the lead with a performance that is dull and one-note.  The character is also painfully stupid as he doesn’t bother to pick-up his backpack that is sitting right at his feet and has everything he needs in it when he escapes from a house even though he had just grabbed a gun out of it only a few seconds earlier.

Douglas is by far the better actor and rightfully deserved the top billing. It is amazing how a man who has played so many good guys in his career could turn around and so easily play a bad guy with the same type of conviction, but he does and it is quite entertaining. His hairstyle looks terrible and almost like it’s a wig, but I think that was intentional as it gives him an appearance of being ugly, crazed and menacing all at the same time.

At times it relies too heavily on old Texas stereotypes, which borders on making the whole thing come off as one giant cliché, but the scene where Eddie gets kidnapped by rednecks and taken into ranch home that is filled with pinball machines and terrorized is fun and has a nice mix of whacky characters and dark humor that the rest of the film should have had. The on-location shooting nicely brings out the dusty, barren landscape as well as a dazzling bird’s-eye shot of the San Antonio skyline.

Norton Buffalo’s moody soundtrack is a major plus, but the two songs sung by Schneider are terrible and just about ruin the whole thing. The film is passable enough to be an adequate time-filler for a slow evening, but don’t expect too much. This also mark’s the official film debut of John Goodman who appears with a mustache as Eddie’s corrupt boss as well as J.T. Walsh who has a brief bit as a bar patron.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 23, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Burglar (1987)

burglar

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Burglar witnesses a murder.

Bernice who goes by the nickname of Bernie (Whoopi Goldberg) is a cat burglar who gets hired by a dentist named Cynthia Sheldrake (Lesley Ann Warren) who wants Bernie to rob her ex-husband’s apartment and steal back her jewelry. When Bernie enters the apartment she has to hide in the closet when the ex-husband comes home earlier than expected and it is there that she hears him get murdered. Cynthia implicates Bernie in the crime and it is up to Bernie to track down the real killer before the police catch up with her.

The usually entertaining Goldberg doesn’t seem right for the part, which was originally intended for Bruce Willis. Except for a few amusing moments she is not all that funny and seems to be coasting most of the way and even out-of-place. For some reason she wears blue contacts and they look hideous. She also seems just a bit too nice for a career criminal that has spent time in jail and should be little more rough-around-the-edges. Having her constantly concerned about doing the ‘ethical’ thing and only robbing those that ‘deserve’ it doesn’t quite jive.

Bobcat Goldthwait as her dog groomer friend Carl is more of distraction than anything. His quivering, high pitch schtick comes off like someone with a serious psychological or physical problem and more creepy than funny. His line stating that drinking olive oil before drinking alcohol will prevent one from getting drunk later became the amusing basis for the film Calling Bobcat.

The supporting cast ends up being funnier than the two leads. John Goodman and Anne De Salvo have a few good moments as a bickering and perpetually perplexed cop duo. Warren is also good as an all-around bitch and all three performers deserved more screen time.

The film features Whoopi riding a motorcycle and being chased by police down the hilly, winding streets of San Francisco, which to an extent resembled the chase sequence in What’s Up Doc?. However, the chase is so poorly photographed and edited that it becomes hard to follow and nothing more than a collage of jump cuts.

There is another scene where the police try to enter her apartment which is equipped with a steal door, all sorts of booby traps and even a hidden room. On one hand this is kind of funny, but on the other it is wholly unrealistic. If this had occurred in a house that she owned I might have bought into it, but I would think that the noisy construction of all these contraptions would have had her reported to the landlord and she would have been evicted. Also, how is one able to build a hidden room in an apartment building without it affecting the neighboring tenants? There is also the issue that she states earlier that she had just been released from jail, so where did she find the time to build all this stuff?

The story itself lacks intrigue, relies too much on coincidence and eventually becomes implausible. I liked the use of the Bay area locations particularly the fog setting at the end, but otherwise this is just a bunch of overblown nonsense.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated R

Director: Hugh Wilson

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video